kim and bridgerLiving Horsemanship


Considering the Horse - Diaries 05/2003



We leave Estes Park 3:57 P. M. We load Smokey and Bridger, and were off to Wisconsin for two clinics. I will get to meet Marks family. We have two days off while were there, (I’m really looking forward to meeting every one, especially Marks dad.)

We leave through Big Thompson Canyon, with the Big Thompson River running wild and free from the freeze of winter. Red buttes jump out of the earth, Devils Backbone jagged, runs through the valley splitting it in two, all against the blue skies of Colorado. 

Yesterday we got the trailer loaded, propane, water, food, all our supplies, shavings for our beautiful Smokey and Bridger. It’s 80 degrees now in Loveland. Ah, the Platte River…Too thick to drink, too thin to plow.  My grandmother’s family came down the Platte from French Canada, and settled in Colorado Springs… just a little F.Y.I.

Last night was another big night for us. Mark, Tyler and myself were testing in Aikido, again going for our higher belts. Mark and I having been working hard, not just at the Dojo, but as a way of life to apply the philosophy to our horse-work.  Softness through life.

Mark is going for his green belt.  Tyler for his purple and I for my orange. We are all going to hopefully move up in our ranking. However once you get to green the next is brown then black. Belts represent knowledge and understanding of technique and philosophy. Bottom line, the higher the ranking the more serious you are considered as a student…the more your responsibilities increase. So I want to share a story.

We are, as you know, working towards softness in our horse work and life work. The idea in Aikido is working on feel, timing, blending, balance, our center breath and softness. Working with an attacker’s energy to subdue them in the kindness way possible. Sometime this might mean simply directing them harmlessly passed you, or it could mean something much more drastic.

The style of Aikido we practice is Yoshinkan.  It is the oldest style and considered to be the most physically demanding. While Yoshinkan Aikido is all defensive movements, it all so uses techniques designed to help break the opponent’s concentration. One of these techniques is called “itime”.  Simply put, it is a hard blow to any part of your opponent’s  body  that causes him to flinch. This blow is coupled with a sort of yell. In the lower belts the “itime” is incorporated into the moves and is often done with little or no force behind it. As you get into the higher belts you are expected to deliver the “itime” with the same force you would in a real confrontation.

Mark being a upper belt was expected to apply this “itime” using that kind of force, as were all of the upper belts. Mark, also being who he is and working towards his own personal growth and goals was faced with a decision. This was not soft. Could there be another way to accomplish this?  Had there already been too much unnecessary fight or hardness in life?

Am always so proud to know Mark, to learn with him, from him, and because of him.

Mark said to our Shihan that this did not work for him. That he didn’t care if he ever advanced another belt. That he wanted to keep that kind of fight out of his life. Both our Shihan and Sensi, stepped back in thought…They had so much respect for what Mark was saying. Mark said of course he would continue class. It really wasn’t about the belts. They were nice and all but that wasn’t what he was working for or towards.

Our Shihan, being who he is, sees other ways as well. When there is desire and truth we can and do find ways to move forward. Mark, of course, received his green belt, Tyler and I both advanced too. I don’t know what I’ll do right now when that decision comes to me. I do have deep feelings about our work towards softness. Outside in the world we must deal with what comes towards us. With horses you must do as little or as much as you need. In our Dojo we have choose and I like that. We can feel safe there and respect one another.

This is the same atmosphere we want to bring to our clinics. A place to feel safe with our horses, safe with ourselves, so we might grow to see other ways too. Breathe and be soft. Feel, Timing, Blending, Balance.

8:26 P.M. rested the horses and had dinner. Back on the road, sunset over the plains of Nebraska. Green hills and cattle everywhere. There is a tale told that a couple of boys were playing around here when they saw some Indians. So, they jumped on their pony “Hell bent for leather” riding home double on their old horse all the way. When one of the Indians shot them with a bow an arrow. The arrow went through both the boys and pinned them together. They made it home and lived to tell the tale.

11:18 P.M.  57degrees. We just passed the Gateways to the west. Hopefully we’ll be able to stop on the way home. This is true American history.  1:24 A.M. We stop in Lincoln Nebraska for fuel. In an hour we’ll stop again to rest the horses and rest ourselves. I hear the sound of frogs and crickets I love that. 2:04 A.M. Getting ready to cross the Missouri River. 2:15 A.M. Iowa soon we’ll rest.

3:00 A.M-ish. We unhook the horses so they can get there heads down, after a while  we’ll get them out of the trailer, put some hay in their hay bags, hang them on the side of the trailer and clean it out. Now we can rest ourselves!  It is so nice having a trailer with living quarters. You can really freshen-up and you feel like your starting a new day.

5:00A.M. A beautiful morning half moon over the picturesque farm land. Silos, tall grass and clear skies with a scarlet sunrise.

5:36 A. M.. “On the road again” as Willie Nelson would say. We should be in Wisconsin in about 4-5 hours. Were making good time. The sun comes up like a big fireball across the mid-west.

We’ll start the clinic with the demo. I’ve been thinking of knew ways to begin the demo .

We just passed John Wayne’s birth place. I was driving into Des Moines and missed I-35 North. Suddenly we’re in so much traffic, road construction, you name it.  I had to take surface streets back to the interstate.

9:44 A.M. We stop for fuel, grab a doughnut, Krispy-Kreme, and we’re off again.  We stopped at three gas stations before we found one with diesel. The Midwest is sure green and pretty with quaint farms speckled here and there. We listen a lot to talk radio while we drive.

10:41 A.M. Mississippi river, we just went over it… Big and beautiful.

1:20 P.M.  At last we’re in Wisconsin, Mark’s homeland. Again, it’s very pretty. Ho-chunk Indians hail from here. Mark’s grandmother was full blooded Ho-chunk. I am truly looking forward to meeting his family. Elms, poplars, oak and hickory trees. It’s very pretty here… Lots of little rivers and water everywhere. It’s early enough in the year so hopefully there won’t be too many mosquitoes.

Mark’s brother Rick lives on a lake. We’ll stay there for a couple of days during our days off. We’re going around Milwaukee now. We’re about an hour away from where we’ll do the clinic.

2:09 P.M.  Boy, I bet Smokey and Bridger will be glad when we get there. They are so good.

Wauwatosa, home of Harley Davidson… Who Knew?  Also the home of JC Penny.

Well, we’re here. Bridger and Smokey are very happy, as are Mark and I.

This was another really good clinic with wonderful changes and interesting horses.  We had some excellent young riders who were on it, into it and getting it done with feel, timing, blending, breath and balance.  These are some serious young equestrians.  One young rider, 16 years old, rides a paint stallion, two blue eyes and nice conformation.  When he was moving he was way behind the bit, his neck was rubbery and the rest of his body was stiff and hollowed out.  He was the most peculiar sight, especially when she brought him to a halt. He looked like a poodle in this totally disconnected stance.  I think it looks odd for a poodle to take that “show stance”.  I didn’t know what to think when I saw this horse stand like that. When he was started, they were not interested in connection from the front to the back. They just put him in a stance with no understanding or connection to what he was actually doing.

We worked for four days on getting the horse reconnected with himself while under saddle and by the end both horse and rider were much, much better. 

We had two other young riders, sisters 14 and 12 years old, both riding wild TB’s. A big Gray and a not so big Bay mare, respectively.  I really admire these young girls. They had their horses in training with a trainer who the girls felt did not understand what it was they wanted. Both girls jump, one sister rides bareback, the other in a little English saddle. One day while working with their trainer she got out a dressage whip to inspire one of the girls’ horses and that was it! The girls stood up for their horses, and that was enough. These young horsewomen went looking for other ways to get things done. They left the barn for greener pastures.

The older sister rode her big Gray horse into the arena. It was a sight to see, the Gray mare was everywhere but with her rider. Mark started working with the rider and her mare getting them together. Mark asked her to do circles to help slow the mare down and start her thinking about where her feet were. And they did. It’s amazing what happens when you start to direct energy.

What was so refreshing about these riders is anything you asked of them, they were up for. The answer was always “ok lets go”, and off they went. When Mark asked “do you feel that?” The answer was a yes or no, there was no maybe, let me think about it, did I feel it? Didn’t I feel it? What does it feel like? They were all so clear about what they were asking. It made it so easy for Mark and my self. And of course most important, their horses.

The younger sister was riding her Bay mare, and again this little horse was all over the place. Mark asked the rider to do some serpentines to slow her mare down. This little mare was a speed demon with no consistency in her gait. Again doing serpentines directs the energy with softness and thought, the horse has to start thinking about where her feet are. Well this little mare started to buck, or trip-spin a little bit, and unseated her rider, (who was bareback). Before this little gal hit the ground she was looking at Mark, reins still in her hand, asking “what happened?” Before Mark could answer, she was up and on her horse ready to get back to work, no big deal.

These young riders were like sponges. They came ready to ride and get things done. Mark sent them over to me and off to work we went on their horses and on the ground. I asked the one sister to lower her stirrups, to find balance from her center. “Do you understand?” “Yes”, and off she went . We worked on seat, better balance, breath, offering more to their horses as well as themselves. What a treat to work with these young and dedicated equestrians. I focused on these riders because they inspired every one at the clinic to do more, be more, by doing less. By getting out of the way, out of our way, and the horses way.